By Len Ingrassia
CNHI News Service
— A sporty small performance car with a domestic name?
Can it be?
The new Ford Focus ST has carved out its niche to compete head on with European imports. It is welcome news for Ford enthusiasts looking for a domestic car with ample power and lots of interior refinements.
Not only does the Focus come out of the gate with a powerful engine and performance package as standard equipment, it accomplishes all this with high end driving dynamics at a budget price. Hard to beat.
The ST comes as a five-door hatchback. No sedan or automatic transmission is offered.
Main competitors for the Focus are the Mazdaspeed 3, Volkswagen GTI and Subaru WRX, all fine cars with a long tradition of performance. Still, the Focus represents the latest technology led by its mind-blowing 252-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine.
Mated with a six-speed manual transmission, driving the test car was all about fun and excitement going through the gears. From the moment you step behind the wheel you are greeted with high-mounted trio gauges providing needle feedback on oil pressure, engine temperature and turbo boost.
Ford says its little racer will reach 60 miles per hour from a stop in 6.2 seconds but it actually comes closer to 6.0 in testing. Know that if your right foot gets a little heavy in some gears, redline will bring a spirited fuel shut down.
Another surprise with all of this boost is miserly fuel usage. The Focus actually delivers on its combined EPA fuel economy of 26 mpg.
The test car included black leatherette Recaro seats with dark blue trim on the bolstered side and back seat panels, and a sporty embroidered ST emblem on each seat back. The bolsters provided excellent support whether on a short trip or during lengthy interstate travel.
Many optional high-end items on the import competition are included with the ST base price including 18-inch aluminum wheels, dual exhaust tips, fog lamps, halogen headlamps and an aggressive looking blackened grille.
MyFord Touch media center was the only option package on the test car and included Sirius satellite radio, navigation, dual zone climate controls and a Sony sound system with voice activated controls.
Some critics have taken issue with finicky voice and touch screen controls with the MyFord system. While there is a learning curve, I found the system to be user-friendly, effective and a safer alternative.
Those familiar with firm BMW suspension systems will like the Focus ride. It handles bumps with a single up-down motion and provides stiff road response for performance handling.
The front wheel drive, torque-steer compensator, compensates for many driving conditions but a quick press on the accelerator in lower gears will prompt a corrective steer. Some of this can be avoided by adjusting Sport or Normal driving dynamics through a center console switch.
Overall, the Ford Focus is a respectable small performance car that has the European imports on edge. Test drive the hatchback at your local Ford dealer. You may just buy one.
Len Ingrassia is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.